Nato chief fears Vladimir Putin's ambition 'goes beyond Ukraine'

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels August 11, 2014. In Iceland on Wednesday, he said Russia hoped to establish a sphere of Russian influence in surroundin
Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels August 11, 2014. In Iceland on Wednesday, he said Russia hoped to establish a sphere of Russian influence in surrounding countries, adding: "that's why I am concerned that the Russian ambitions go beyond Ukraine." -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

REYKJAVIK (AFP) - Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed concern on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin's ambition went "beyond Ukraine," where he is accused of stoking a bloody rebellion by pro-Kremlin separatists.

"We have seen the illegal annexation of Crimea, we have seen a strong Russian hand in the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine," Rasmussen told journalists on a visit to Iceland.

"But actually we also see Russia behind the frozen and protracted conflicts in Transnistria and eastern Moldova, in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Georgia."

Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria are separatist regions whose independence is recognised by Russia.

Rasmussen said Russia hoped to establish a sphere of Russian influence in surrounding countries, adding: "that's why I am concerned that the Russian ambitions go beyond Ukraine."

Nato has accused Moscow of massing some 20,000 troops on the border with its former Soviet neighbour.

While Ukraine is not a member of Nato, the military alliance has repeatedly expressed its support for Kiev in the face of "Russian aggression."

Moscow has denied backing the rebels in mostly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine who launched a violent bid for their own independence after Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from its neighbour.

Kiev, whose turn away from the Kremlin towards the European Union sparked the crisis gripping the nation, is waging an offensive to unseat the rebels from their strongholds.

The number of people killed in the conflict has nearly doubled in two weeks to 2,086, including at least 20 children, the UN human rights agency said Wednesday.